The Obama administration has issued a sweeping new policy on transgender students, directing every public school in the country, including most public universities and colleges, to open bathrooms and locker rooms to transgender persons. The policy states that, “[w]hen a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”
What triggers the student’s right to transgender access? The student’s say-so is good enough. The letter states that the student’s claim to a new gender identity is itself sufficient proof of transgender status. “Under Title IX, there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”
Characterized as “significant guidance,” but not as an additional legal requirement, the directive nevertheless carries an implied warning: schools that don’t comply will risk lawsuits or the loss of federal funds.
The Obama administration insists the new policy must be enforced over the objections of the school community. Existing state laws and local policies protecting bathroom and locker room privacy must give way to transgender “equal access” claims even if “other students, parents or community members raise objections or concerns” or express “discomfort.”
This is gender ideology at work. And schools are ground zero for the promotion of gender ideology. Pope Francis warns that gender ideology is fast unraveling our cultural belief in the most basic fact of human existence — our creation by God as male or female. It’s no surprise that many young people are losing their belief in the reality of God at the same time they’re losing their grip on the reality of the human person.
The scope of the problem
Today, most Catholic children attend public schools, so a Catholic response should directly address the experiences of these children and their families. The government’s transgender policy follows decades long efforts by LGBT activists to promote gender ideology under the banner of creating “welcoming schools.’‘ Public education effectively evangelizes children to conform to, if not embrace, gender ideology; new norms shape our children’s beliefs and expectations about identity, sexuality and family; schools propose new heroes (the “brave transgender student”) and validate politicized gender “science.” Curricular and extracurricular programs teach “gender-fluidity” (detached from biology) and encourage students to “explore their identities” and gender.
A teacher-training program at the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, instructs teachers that, “[d]isrupting heteronormativity is good for all kids. … Our job as educators is not to ‘figure out’ what gender box to put that kid in, but to create a safe space for that student to explore their gender.” Thousands of teachers (including preschool teachers) have participated in the training over the past two years.
Catholic children absorb gender ideology from the surrounding culture, including their schools. As they realize their religious beliefs are unpopular, they may reject Catholic beliefs or keep their heads down and their mouths shut, fearing embarrassment and hostility.
Forced conformity on a daily basis takes its toll, however, reducing confidence and creating confusion. It wears away at even the most strongly held beliefs — including the belief in God as our creator, who made us male and female.
Polls show that in two short years, American support for bathroom choices based on gender identity (versus birth sex) has gone from roughly 25 percent to 43 percent. Young people prove most vulnerable to gender ideology: they overwhelmingly (62 percent) support gender identity rather than birth sex as the relevant criteria for transgender bathroom privileges.
The majority (54 percent) of young adults ages 18-29 — the future parents of America — now say that parents should let children choose their genders, regardless of their sex at birth. In other words, most young people don’t know, or don’t believe in, the fundamental truth, as Pope Francis wrote, that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (Amoris Laetitia, No. 56).
Chances are, gender ideology has not topped the agenda at your parish council, parent-teacher meetings or teacher in-service days. So it’s worth asking: Are parish clergy and teachers knowledgeable about gender ideology? About Christian anthropology? Can they clearly distinguish gender ideology and Christian anthropology? Would they be comfortable addressing these topics with individuals and groups? Can they make the case to young people that the Church’s teachings on the person, the body and human sexuality are true, grounded in reality and lead to happiness?
How and when does your Catholic school, religious education or faith formation program present Church’s teachings on the human person? Who hears that teaching? (The proverbial choir?) Is the Christian understanding of the person woven throughout the curriculum or confined to a standalone lesson on sexuality? Do your men’s and women’s programs, your senior and young adult programs, address these issues?
Does every child in your parish have the opportunity for a Catholic education? Is it affordable? (Almost half of U.S. Catholics under the age of 30 are Hispanic, a population more likely to attend public schools, where gender ideology predominates.) Does your parish support the Catholic families who seek to shield their kids from daily gender indoctrination in public schools and need alternatives (Catholic schools, homeschooling or online schools)?
Gender mainstreaming dictates the inclusion of LGBT vocabulary, people, history and themes across the public school curriculum. Does your parish school use public school curricular materials? If so, have those materials been reviewed and problems flagged?
Do teachers and parents affiliated with the religious education program understand how gender ideology is mainstreamed in local public schools? Can they spot situations that might confuse vulnerable children? Do they know how to respond? Religious education programs may be “flying blind” reacting to anecdotes and individual parent complaints with little feel for school environments.
How effective is your parish at encouraging religious education participation? Is your youth group vibrant? Are parents with kids in religious education or youth groups invited to join parish social or formation events? In other words, is your parish a home for young people and their families during these crucial years?
Reality and the Catholic voice
Even ideologues can’t change reality. The Church — an expert in humanity — must continue to affirm the truth in a clear and confident voice, exposing the harms of gender ideology and reproposing the truth about the person.
We have an advantage: Catholicism’s clear logic, hopeful perspective and inspiring account of what it means to be human stand in stark contrast to the confusion and dysfunction following from gender ideology. In the end, the truth resonates deeply within every human being, but we must be willing — and courageous enough — to propose it.
Theresa Farnan, PhD, is an adjunct professor at Franciscan University in Ohio. Mary Rice Hasson is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.